The nurse gave me a number to ring to set up mum’s bedside phone.
Mum seems fairly upbeat. Happily resigned to her fate. “I feel better now I know what’s wrong.” She says. I never mention the “C” word, and mum just calls it her “problem”
She is lucid and upbeat, happily resigned to her fate. I never mention the C word and mum calls it «a little problem ».
“I’ll just take things a day at a time,’ she announces philosophically. “I don’t want to be sad. I haven’t got the time,” she says.
I’d rung the consultant before ringing mum. He seemed to be taking his diagnosis harder than mum.
« Its definitely bowel cancer, and we think that it has spread down into the pancreas and …. It’s terminal”
The consultant mentions something about palliative chimeotherapy. They might be able to keep mum hanging on for an extra couple of weeks. Mum just wants to meet her maker as quick as possible
« I don’t want to be hooked up to tubes and machines, and I don’t want that chemotherapy or whatever they call it. What’s the point? »
I know what mum wants. We’ve discussed it at length over the past few years.
“Make it quick and painless. If they hook me up to anything, just switch me off.”
« Are you for burial or cremation? » I asked mum once
« Definitely cremation. I don’t want to spend the rest of eternity in one of those awful council cemeteries, buried between the railway line and the gasworks, besides, cemeteries are full of dead people. I wouldn’t be happy there.”
Mum wants to be scattered “somewhere nice”.
Mum tells me to have a good rest before she dies. “There’s going to be a lot of work clearing out my life when I’m gone.”
She tells me to sell the sideboard. “The thing’s so bloody big. You’ve got no room for it in France. Just sell it. You’ll get a good price. It’s a genuine antique”
I protest, saying that it is a family heirloom. Mum tells me to get rid of it and spend the proceeds on something “nice” that I can enjoy while I am alive.
“You don’t want dead things sitting around your house and gathering dust.”
There’s a long silence.
“I’ll miss you all,” she says.
“We’ll miss you too mum”
Another long silence
We fill the space with aimless everyday chat: the bad weather, the lousy hospital food, the other patients …
“God, it’s so depressing in this bloody ward” groans mum. “Everyone here’s so old. The woman in the next bed is a bloody loony and we’re all going to die. I just want out of here as quickly as possible””
I call mum every evening. Sometimes chatting, sometimes just long silences with mum drifting in and out of sleep. Even if we say nothing, she seems reassured knowing I am there. When we do talk, conversation can be difficult. Mum mislaid her hearing aids and false teeth before she went into hospital. I am often shouting down the phone at the top of my voice, and when mum answers, her voice is flabby where her cheeks have caved in.
“You’ll have to come and see me” she says. “The doctor doesn’t think I’ll last out the weekend.”
Saturday afternoon – Mum is sitting up in bed. “You’re late,” she snaps. For the rest of the visit we just sit in silence holding hands. The end of visiting. I gently remove mum’s hand from mine. I kiss her on the forehead – she opens her eyes, looks at me and mouths the words “be happy”.
Sunday afternoon – Mum’s falling in and out of sleep. Rambling and snoring
Monday – They’ve got mum on morphine
Tuesday afternoon – It was like she fell asleep. One moment she was breathing and then … nothing. It was peaceful and painless.
“What happens now?” I ask the nurse.
Mum has gone. I don’t want to call it death though, just a momentary parting of the ways. She has embarked on another part of life’s great journey, and her departure will set me on a new path that I have never travelled before.
October 2010 (Mum died on October 12th at just after 4pm)
Directions For Burial
Bury me in the car park
Deep, in a recycling bin.
Throw my body in the canal
To wash away my sins
The council cemetery’s not for me,
It’s unkempt, windswept and cold,
It’s off all the major bus routes
And full of the sick, and the old.
Don’t put me in a sad place
Where people will piss on my tomb,
Where rapists, junkies, paedophiles
And, Satanists commune.
I don’t want to spend death with the dead,
I’d feel so bloody depressed,
Just scatter me to the four winds,
When you’ve burned my soul to rest.
Written for mum in September 2007, after one of our many chats about where she wanted to be after death.